It is no exaggeration to say that I personally am addicted to smartphones. Much of my free time is spent researching new models or customizing the ones that I own. I tend to buy a new one every six to twelve months, which allows me to try out all sorts of hardware and software combinations. When a phone is no longer my “daily driver,” I will either repurpose it, give it to a family member, or have it destroyed for security reasons. Needless to say, I now know quite a bit about how they work.
I’ve always wanted to do a “What’s on Your Phone?” post, though I wasn’t sure how well it would mesh with the fundamental nature of this blog (most of you would rather have more fap material, I’m sure). The reason I’m deciding to do one now is because I feel I can make it educational, and that would put it in line with some of the other posts I’ve done (such as the “How to Hypnotize” post I made last year).
Device Overview: Motorola G4 Play (2016), $150 US Unlocked. Snapdragon 410 (1.2 Ghz x 4-Core), 2GB RAM, 5-inch 720p Display, 16GB Storage + 128GB MicroSD, Tracfone BYOP (AT&T Network).
Operating System: Lineage OS 14.1 (Android 7.1.1 Nougat). When I bought this phone, I planned to keep it stock in the event Motorola provided a 7.0 update. At the start of 2017, it was announced the update would be delayed indefinitely, so I requested a “Bootloader Unlock.” This is where you plug the phone into a computer, extract a special device code, and enter that code into Motorola’s unlock website. Motorola then makes you sign a legal release of liability before supplying you a bootloader unlock code. Once the bootloader is unlocked, you can install a custom recovery mode (Team Win Recovery Project, aka TWRP, is the most common). With a custom recovery, you can install custom versions of Android (ROMs).
LineageOS is the spiritual successor to CyanogenMod, a popular custom ROM series developed in large part by Cyanogen Inc. before they went out of business last year. Having a custom ROM allows you to modify the system partition on the phone (something called “SuperUser access”) and add features not present in the stock version. Of course, all of the features of Android Nougat are included (such as a split screen mode and custom notification tiles).
Custom Launcher/Home Screen: FastKey Launcher. This launcher is relatively new, and I decided to switch to it from Nova Launcher Prime. FastKey is a simplistic launcher with a special twist: there’s a keyboard on the home screen itself. By tapping letters, you can quickly search through apps and contacts. When I was using Nova Prime, I would swipe up on the screen to access a similar app menu, so this makes the process a little faster. It’s also free while I had to pay $6 when Nova Prime originally came out.
Calling/Texting: AOSP Dialer, Hangouts, Hangouts Dialer. The stock (AOSP) Dialer in LineageOS is modeled after the Google Dialer as seen on Nexus and Pixel devices. You can now find Google’s version in the Play Store, and I highly recommend it. All of your call forwarding and blocking settings are in the app, and its caller ID system is a bit more sophisticated than what other phone makers tend to include. Hangouts is my SMS app for both my Tracfone and Google Voice numbers, and Hangouts Dialer allows me to make calls with my Google Voice number while on a WiFi/Data connection.
Document Software: Polaris Office. When I purchased one of my LG phones, Polaris Office was included on the device for two years at no charge. When I moved to my G4 Play, I decided to pay for an ad-free version which works on all other devices. Polaris is nice because it includes word, spreadsheet, powerpoint and PDF support; as well as remote access to my Google Drive, all within the same app. Google and Microsoft do have more complex app suites, but for basic writing and document viewing, Polaris more than does what I need it to.
Note Taking: Google Keep. I started using it as a means to synchronize my sticky notes whenever I changed phones. Over time, I found its other features to be incredibly useful, particularly the function to create checklists. There are also options for voice memos and the like, but I haven’t really seen a need for them. Still, since Android requires a Google account anyway, you really can’t do wrong by it.
Journaling: MoodCast. I discovered this app rather recently, so I’m still learning about its features. The Pro version allows you to link your social media accounts and uses AI to rate the “mood” of your posts. So far, it’s been about 70% accurate, and corrections are very easy to make. You can write journal entries which also incorporate that mood-sensing algorithm. The app will track your mood from day to day and generate monthly reports.
Music: CM Music, Pandora, TuneIn Radio. CM Music is obviously a holdover from CyanogenMod. I tend to keep about 150 to 300 songs on my microSD card, and this allows me to navigate through them quite easily (being completely honest, I’ve always found Google Play Music to be a terrible app). CM Music is special in that it shows an equalizer visualization on your lock screen, which also shows up when any other music app is used. Pandora is just a point of preference over other apps like Spotify, while TuneIn is a way for me to listen to the news while I’m out and about.
Video: MX Player Pro, FunimationNow, YouTube. Perhaps the biggest problem with Android phones is they normally do not include a video player. The phone’s Gallery app can play some types of video but not others. MX Player Pro allows you to play nearly any type of video out there, though it requires certain extensions in order to play videos containing Dolby Digital Audio. VLC Media Player, a competing app, might be easier for a novice to set up, but it is a lot less stable overall.
GPS: GPS Status & Toolbox. This app is meant to launch every time I open another app that requires GPS functionality. If there’s one thing I hate about this phone, it’s that the GPS is programmed incorrectly and is therefore terrible. GPS Status helps by downloading Assisted-GPS data, showing what satellites the phone is receiving data from, and displaying all positioning calculations in realtime. It is one of the first things I install on all of my new devices.
Games: ePSXe, Ingress. I purchased ePSXe for under $5 in order to play Digimon World 3 on my phone. The emulator runs well enough with occasional lag that I can’t figure out how to fix. I like that the controls are highly customizable and that it can interface with physical devices (keyboards, joypads, etc). Speaking of which…
Keyboards: AOSP Keyboard, Logitech K480. On LineageOS, the stock keyboard is the same as what shipped in Android 5.1, and while GBoard (the new Google Keyboard) has more functions, I find it to be a bit overwhelming. I also recently purchased a Logitech K480 Bluetooth keyboard which pairs nicely with the phone and has a built-in cradle. Much of my writing from now on will be through my phone instead of through a personal computer.
Headset: Motorola Surround Headset, Motorola Connect App. It was only fitting that I buy my gear from the same manufacturer as my phone, and I must say I have been impressed so far. The Surround supports one-click pairing through the Connect app, and the app provides additional configuration to the headset. I can usually get 10 hours of music time on a full charge, and the headset also allows voice commands through Google Now.
Money: Google Wallet. Payments can be sent back and forth between anyone who has a Gmail account, making it an obvious choice for Android users. When I do commissions on the blog, I ask for payments to be sent to my Wallet, which are then forwarded to my bank on the same day.
Security: MalwareBytes. Just a word of warning: most cleanup/antivirus programs on Android are SCAMS. Nine times out of ten, they will cause more problems with your device than they solve. Google releases security patches every few months, and it’s up to your phone maker to push the updates to your phone. THE BEST WAY TO PREVENT MALWARE IS TO ONLY GO TO TRUSTWORTHY SITES AND INSTALL TRUSTWORTHY APPS, PERIOD. That said, I trust MalwareBytes because it is something of an industry standard. If you are worried that your device is not secure, this is the only app I can recommend in good conscience.
Network: Netgear Genie, Speedof.me (Website). If you are cheap like I am, odds are you have a Netgear router in your home. The Genie app is a nice augment to the WebUI interface accessible through 192.168.1.1. It allows you to quickly view your traffic monitor, see what devices are on the network, and make minor changes to the router settings. As far as testing speed, I decided to switch from Speedtest.net to Speedof.me, because the latter can be done in Chrome rather than needing its own app.
I don’t really keep much else on my phone beyond that. Yes, I keep a few social media apps around like Twitter and Kik, but in this day and age, doesn’t everyone? With all of my devices, I try to rely on as many stock or system apps as possible. To me, it just doesn’t make sense to use – say – a custom calendar or map application when the phone already comes with them. If I were to find a better alternative, I would first seek to remove the system version (using a root uninstaller or something similar).
A smartphone is only as good as what the user configures it to do. I like to think that I know enough about the technology now to eliminate anything wasteful or inefficient. If there’s anything I hope my writing this has accomplished, it’s giving other smartphone users some ideas on how to customize their own devices, or maybe for them to have a better appreciation of the technology.
On a final note, I would love to hear what some of you have on your phones. Please feel free to comment with the devices you have, what you like or don’t like about them, what some of your favorite apps are, and more! Thank you so much for reading!